That afternoon we rode into Ichon itself. This is quite a large town. I found it practically deserted. Most of the people had fled to the hills, to escape from the Japanese. I slept that night in a schoolhouse, now deserted and unused. There were the cartoons and animal pictures and pious mottoes around, but the children were far away. I passed through the market-place, usually a very busy spot. There was no sign of life there.
I turned to some of the Koreans.
“Where are your women? Where are your children?” I demanded. They pointed to the high and barren hills looming against the distant heavens.
“They are up there,” they said. “Better for them to lie on the barren hillsides than to be outraged here.”
WITH THE REBELS
Day after day we travelled through a succession of burned-out villages, deserted towns, and forsaken country. The fields were covered with a rich and abundant harvest, ready to be gathered, and impossible for the invaders to destroy. But most of the farmers were hiding on the mountainsides, fearing to come down. The few courageous men who had ventured to come back were busy erecting temporary shelters for themselves before the winter cold came on, and had to let the harvest wait. Great flocks of birds hung over the crops, feasting undisturbed.
Up to Chong-ju nearly one-half of the villages on the direct line of route had been destroyed by the Japanese. At Chong-ju I struck directly across the mountains to Chee-chong, a day’s journey. Four-fifths of the villages and hamlets on the main road between these two places were burned to the ground.
The few people who had returned to the ruins always disclaimed any connection with the “Righteous Army.” They had taken no part in the fighting, they said. The volunteers had come down from the hills and had attacked the Japanese; the Japanese had then retaliated by punishing the local residents. The fact that the villagers had no arms, and were peaceably working at home-building, seemed at the time to show the truth of their words. Afterwards when I came up with the Korean fighters I found these statements confirmed. The rebels were mostly townsmen from Seoul, and not villagers from that district.
Between 10,000 and 20,000 people had been driven to the hills in this small district alone, either by the destruction of their homes or because of fear excited by the acts of the soldiers.
Soon after leaving Ichon I came on a village where the Red Cross was flying over one of the houses. The place was a native Anglican church. I was later on to see the Red Cross over many houses, for the people had the idea that by thus appealing to the Christians’ God they made a claim on the pity and charity of the Christian nations.